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Extended Analysis

Jessica Jones Quartet: Nod

By Published: July 22, 2004
Jessica Jones Quartet
New Artists Records

One of the first things apparent about this album is that it doesn't dwell in any particular time zone.

Jessica Jones' third quartet album, Nod , opens with an ensemble that sounds deliberately muffled like a 1950s bebop recording, progresses to uber-funk treatment of Jackie McLean and drifts into a bit of vocal poetry appropriate for the Vietnam War peace protests Jones took part in at Berkeley—all within the first three songs. True to her Berkley roots it's intelligent stuff, but sometimes suffers the same downfall of protesters who get attention by staging rallies on freeways that block traffic—good intentions that don't always find a receptive audience.

With songs and styles covering everything from swing to hip-hop this is very much a multi-generational album, especially since Jones, a tenor sax and pianist, relies on family members for contributions. Her husband Tony also plays tenor sax, and daughters Candance and Levi each contribute vocals on a song. It's also indicative of Jessica and Tony Jones' musical background, rooted largely in 1960s free jazz but extending from swing to modern.

The retro sound on the opening "Bird's Word" is more concept than achievement, but the sound engineering enters the modern age as one of the Jones (I'm guessing it's Jessica, since she headlines the album) shows right away a hard-bop set of chops that lets the listener know this won't be a shallow album. Guest pianist Connie Crothers pushes the time machine thing ahead just a bit with a touch of free jazz indulgence in her solo before (I'm guessing) the other Jones chimes in somewhat less impressively on sax.

The retro chorus thing continues briefly on McLean's "Little Melonae," but it matters little as Filano and Phillips announce clearly and forcefully some time is going to be spent in the modern age. Filano's groove-oriented bass line provides the perfect compliment to a masterfully wild backing by Phillips on drums although, perhaps fearing too much intensity, both slip back and forth between traditional and modern in their backing.

The group finds a pleasant swing groove on "Happiness Is" and stays there - until things unexpectedly turn ugly with a discordant bit of group poetry at the end. The atonal vocalists offer a choppy "happiness is seeing us all coming together" peace message while the instruments do some 60s-era free blowing indulging. OK, credit them for trying something different, but "A Love Supreme" it ain't.

Things remain like that for much of the album, largely dwelling the older genres of jazz with occasional visits to the present occurring just as the listener gets comfortable. Some journeys are more welcome than expected. Candace Jones contributes a fine contemporary vocal performance on a live version of the ballad "These Foolish Things." And Phillips take his turn on vocals during the closing hip-hop track "Platform Shoes - Apocalypse which, despite being rather at odds with the much of the album, somehow feels appropriate for dropping the listener off in the present after all the time travel.

The players, including guests on more than half of the tracks, generally accord themselves in solid if not spectacular fashion. Mark Taylor's French horn is particularly lyrical on the Wayne Shorter-inspired ballad "Waynopolis," and his bass clarinet contributes to an unexpectedly rich free jazz canvas with the quartet on "Love And Persevere." One annoyance: Since Jessica and her husband both play tenor sax it's not possible to assess who's contributing where—although that does fit into the communal spirit she promotes.

Nod might be a bit too schizophrenic for many general listeners, but it's a rewarding listen for those willing to invest the mental energy necessary to hear how the range of players treat the various of styles. That's probably a plus for a relatively obscure artist competing in the crowded solid-but-not-must-have album category, perhaps pushing it into "worth checking out" status for the latter group of listeners even if it costs her a few more conventional ones.

Tracks: 1) Bird's Word, 2) Little Melonae, 3) Happiness Is, 4) Waynopolis, 5) Love And Persevere, 6) Manhattan, 7) These Foolish Things, 8) Platform Shoes - Apocalypse

Personnel: Jessica Jones, tenor saxophone and piano; Tony Jones, tenor saxophone; Derrek Phillips, drums and vocals; Ken Filiano, bass; Connie Crothers, piano (1, 2, 3); Joseph Jarman, alto saxophone (2, 3) and bass clarinet (5); Mark Taylor, French horn (3, 4, 5); Levi Jones, vocals (3); Candace Jones, vocals (7)

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